Interview: Beverley Callard scrubs up well in transition from soaps to theatre

Beverley Callard as Mari Hoff and Sally Plumb as Sadie in Little Voice
Beverley Callard as Mari Hoff and Sally Plumb as Sadie in Little Voice
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CORRIE’S Beverley Callard tells Liam Rudden about her challenging role as the mother from hell in Little Voice

BEVERLEY Callard might be best known as Liz McDonald, a role she played in Coronation Street for 21 years, but it was another soap, Emmerdale Farm, in which she made her TV debut back in 1983.

Beverley Callard, right, in Coronation Street

Beverley Callard, right, in Coronation Street

She played Angie Richards in the series, which celebrates its 40th birthday with a live episode next week.

A year later she popped up in Corrie for the first time, as June Dewhurst, a friend of Gail and Brian Tilsley. Callard returned to Weatherfield in 1989 as regular Liz McDonald, a character that then endured being a battered wife, kidnap victim, harassed mother and unfaithful wife.

Although 55-year-old Callard departed the famous cobbles more than a year ago, as she prepares to tour to The King’s next week in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, she admits she doesn’t rule out a return in the future.

“I loved playing Liz but I had wanted to do other things so I handed my notice in last March,” she recalls.

“The producers said they wanted me to stay. They didn’t want me to leave. Don’t get me wrong, I love being on TV but theatre has always been my main love.

“I wouldn’t go back to Corrie at the moment, but you never know what is round the corner.”

Theatre, then, and Little Voice, is where her heart is right now. Written and directed by multi award-winning playwright Jim Cartwright, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is the heart-warming tale of a shy young girl blessed with a huge hidden talent.

For those unfamiliar with the piece or the film of the same name starring Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent and Michael Caine, shy Little Voice (known as LV) spends most of her time immersed in her late father’s record collection, perfecting astonishing impersonations of Shirley Bassey and the like, much to the dismay of her drunken, selfish, grotesque, motormouth of a mother, Mari.

Overheard singing by Mari’s latest boyfriend Ray Say, a hapless talent scout, LV is propelled to stardom when Ray books her to perform at a dingy workingmen’s club for a London agent.

But no-one has actually asked LV what she wants.

“Mari is a truly fantastic character,” says the actress, adding, “although I am covered in bruises from head to toe.”

The explanation is simple; Mari likes a drink, and stumbles a lot.

“As well as being such a demanding role because she is on stage throughout the play - apart from six pages - it is a very physical role as well,” explains Callard.

“Falling over sofas, falling down, doing handstands, everything, and you have to do it for real every night, except on days when there are matinees, then you have to do it twice,” she laughs.

“Mari is the juggernaut that drives the play, so the energy levels have to be very high to keep the pace of the play up.

“That’s how Jim described it to me and that is exactly how she is. I wouldn’t be able to have an off day ever and so far that’s not happened.”

No stranger to the piece, Callard was flattered when Cartwright asked to meet her, before offering her the role.

“I’d seen the film and read the play years ago, and then at the beginning of last year Jim asked to meet me.

“Before I went along to meet him and the producer, I read the play again and I just thought, ‘Oh, my god, I’ve got to do this.’

“When they said that Jim Cartwright was directing it himself... well, it doesn’t come better than that, so I said, ‘Okay, whenever and where-ever, yes, I’ll do it.”

At the King’s next week Callard leads an impressive cast, which includes X Factor star Ray Quinn as LV’s friend Billy, Joe McGann as Ray Say and Jess Robinson as LV herself.

“Jess is truly amazing. She was already working and busy, but we like to feel that we have really discovered her. She’s going to be a star,” says Callard of her co-star.

“Then of course we’ve got Ray Quinn, he’s brilliant. People are used to seeing him as a song and dance man and this is his first straight acting role, but he is amazing. He brings such tenderness to it.

“Joe McGann is amazing as well, as is Sally Plumb who plays Sadie, we feel we’ve discovered her too.”

• The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Monday-Saturday, 7.50p (mats 2.30pm), £11.50-£29.50, 0131-529 6000 www.fctt.org.uk